Even an emergency guardianship takes time. The purpose of an emergency
guardianship would be defeated if the patient were to die or be permanently
injured before the guardianship could be obtained. This would be especially
tragic for a child because the courts almost always appoint a guardian to
consent to necessary care for children. If the child will suffer by a delay in care,
then the child should be treated while the guardianship is being arranged. This
is a technical violation of the parents’ right to consent to the child’s medical
care, but it is unlikely that a jury would punish a physician for trying to help the
child. Conversely, if the child is allowed to die or become permanently injured,
the physician’s behavior will be hard to explain to a jury.
Competent adults who refuse care because of religious beliefs pose a more
difficult problem. If the physician chooses to treat the patient without consent,
the treatment should not be limited in any way that will reduce its
effectiveness. Legally, the most damaging outcome is ultimately to save the
patient but only after he or she is permanently disabled.